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Benchmarks for aged care work conditions, equal pay urgent: experts

Better working conditions, increased spending and overall reform based on co-design principles is urgently needed in the aged care sector.

That is according to a new report delivered by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable – a multi-disciplinary network of more than 32 experts from 17 universities.

Ahead of a federal election, the group is urging reform at the national policy level to fix a workforce that is “low-paid, casual and insecure".

According to the report, Australia’s public expenditure on long term care is at 1 per cent of GDP, compared with 1.8 per cent in other OECD nations.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill from the University of Sydney, the roundtable’s co-convenor, said: “The shocking stories emerging from the aged care royal commission stress the urgent need for reform.

“Australia would be in a much better position to deliver a sustainable and high-quality care system if public investment in care infrastructure was increased by an additional 2 per cent of GDP expenditure.

“Our research shows current funding models underwrite fragmented and insecure work in frontline care work. We need to shift the dial so that Australia’s care infrastructure can meet the demands of an ageing population,” she said.

The report recommended that aged care benchmarks are introduced “that recognise the importance of decent working conditions and time to care in providing good quality care”.

It also called for improved access to replacement care for carers of a person with a disability, chronic illness, or frailty due to old age, as well as 12 weeks of paid end-of-life or palliative care leave for carers.

Importantly for an aged care workforce that is overwhelmingly female, the report called on the government to establish equal pay as an “explicit objective of the Fair Work Act 2009".

“Successive Australian governments have pursued gender equality focused on increasing women’s participation in paid work. Gender equality in the paid workforce cannot be achieved unless new and equitable ways of organising care are found,” said Hill.

Co-convener Professor Sara Charlesworth of RMIT University said: “Decent working conditions, including higher wages for the care workforce are essential for the delivery of high-quality care for our children and elderly as well as those living with a disability.

“The federal government is ultimately responsible for ensuring the sustainability of the care sector and workforce.”

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